Forget raises, companies are turning to $1,200 baby cribs to woo talent

Fans go crazy after hearing new game announcements at Activision's annual BlizzCon fan convention at the Anaheim Convention Center. Activision is among companies that are boosting their parental leave benefits to attract workers.
Fans go crazy after hearing new game announcements at Activision’s annual BlizzCon fan convention at the Anaheim Convention Center. Activision is among companies that are boosting their parental leave benefits to attract workers.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Any best-in-class employer worth its salt gives its employees a generous chunk of paid time off when they have kids. One company really trying to brand itself as family-friendly gives them the Snoo.

The Snoo is a $1,160 “smart” baby crib with a cult following that promises new parents more of their most precious resource: sleep. And half a dozen employers — including Hulu and the Canadian book seller Indigo Books and Music Inc. — are offering one to expectant workers for free or at a discount.

As millennials start having children, employers competing for the best talent from the labor market’s most coveted cohort have upped their family-friendly benefits to attract, retain and appease them, triggering an arms race in niche fringe benefits.

By now, these sought-after workers have come to expect months of paid parental leave. Employers that really want to distinguish themselves have to offer more.


That’s what the video game company Activision Blizzard Inc. has done. The Santa Monica-based maker of “Call of Duty” not only offers its 6,000 employees eight weeks of fully paid parental leave, a breast milk delivery service and fertility- and pregnancy-tracking apps, but it also now fully subsidizes a Snoo rental for up to six months. (By that age, most babies have outgrown it.)

So far, the Snoo is a hit among employees. The company started offering the crib three weeks ago and already has 30 out to parents.

“With each new perk, our employees are beginning to say, ‘This is becoming real enough that I have to think twice about leaving,’” said Milt Ezzard, the company’s senior director of benefits.

The Snoo is the brainchild of pediatrician Harvey Karp, author of the bestselling parenting book “The Happiest Baby on the Block,” who says babies want to feel like they’re back in the womb. He argues that any fussing baby can be calmed by swaddling, shushing, swinging, sucking and lying on his or her stomach or side.

The Snoo does most of that, using sensors to respond to a baby’s sounds and movements. When one cries, it rocks and plays white noise, adjusting the levels based on how upset the child is, and parents can control it with an app that alerts them if the infant is inconsolable.

The Snoo smart crib gets rave reviews, but it's expensive.
(PR NEWSWIRE/Happiest Baby Inc. )

The device has gotten plenty of rave reviews — Fast Company called it the “best crib most parents can only dream about” — but its extremely high price puts it out of most parents’ reach. (“Does any parent need to spend roughly a thousand dollars on a product that is engineered to be of no use once their kid reaches 6 months of age?” Wirecutter asked in a review.)

But the Snoo’s hefty price tag doesn’t seem quite so hefty in the scheme of the employee-benefits arms race. At the discounted corporate rental rate of $3.50 per day, it’s a relatively inexpensive perk to offer new parents — certainly cheaper than, say, an additional month of paid leave.

Such luxurious benefits are still rare in a nation where only 14% of workers get any paid parental leave. But as the labor market tightens, some employers have dangled such shiny perks as egg-freezing services for prospective parents, on-site CrossFit classes and now the Snoo as cheaper ways to keep people around than providing an actual pay raise.

Offerings like those give employees access to something exclusive — and expensive — that they might not get elsewhere.

The Snoo is still a niche product; Karp says his company, Happiest Baby Inc., has sold more than 10,000 since it hit the market in October 2016. (There are about 4 million babies born each year in the U.S.) Partnering with employers could get it into many more homes, and, indeed, Karp believes the corporate market will eventually be the bulk of his business, with word of mouth getting employers to bite.

“You just need two or three employees who become evangelists — people who say, ‘This thing is the bomb,’” he said.

writes for Bloomberg.